WASHINGTON, DC - So the healthcare summit convenes in the White House, and there is dancing in the streets by all the reform stakeholders, eh? OK, well maybe for the powerful and the well-connected stakeholders that is.
For millions of Americans held hostage by many of these same stakeholders, they may spend the time during the summit standing at pharmacy windows trying to negotiate expensive co-pays and the like or wondering if they'll get a doctor visit in time to diagnose troubling symptoms or trying to fend off medical collectors made rabid by the prospects of the commissions they can collect if they garnish another patient or two today.
The insurance industry will be front and center at the summit today. So will the hospital industry and the drug companies. They are all giddy with the prospects of having 47 million more customers.
And Republicans are poised to protect the big industry boys and girls under the guise of "preserving the true free market principals of insurance" - Republican Senators and even some Dems -- are laying down "markers" about allowing no public plan option for this nation and starting all the old scare tactic saws about nationalized healthcare. Watch them all flip on themselves as they slam the very Wall Street bailouts they voted for - and watch them now praise and protect profits over human life and market-driven financial healthcare products over the basic human right of healthcare.
The experiences you are having in the doctors' offices, pharmacies and hospitals of this nation are mildly interesting but the real driving force behind all of this is protection of the money. Period. Protect the flow of wealth. And to the extent that average citizens will contribute to that flow of wealth, through payment of insurance premiums, taxes and out-of-pocket costs, that's where your voice will be valued. Period. You are leverage. You are widgets. And as this economy has faltered and frayed, the engine of healthcare and its impact on our national economic conditions has only become more critical.
Let's see what our market-based, for-profit healthcare companies have envisioned for us all and for our taxpayer funds, shall we? Just look at what they did to Medicare with the full blessing of the same Republicans who now say government funded care is bad for their precious market.
Good thing Humana and all the other insurance giants got to call the plans "Medicare Advantage," because that's exactly what they do. The insurance plans take advantage of seniors and disabled people. And though President Obama's healthcare policy plans include asking the Humana gang to have to bid for the business in the future, many of the disabled and elderly are suffering and will die waiting for care they thought they had and they thought they paid for under Medicare.
Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), reportedly said members of the insurers group are deeply concerned about Obama's proposal to switch the Medicare Advantage program to a competitive bidding process, arguing that it would force seniors to bear a disproportionate share of the costs. Really, Karen and friends are worried about seniors? Since when? Karen is part of the industry that openly and with the government's blessing is harming seniors - killing them if necessary - by holding total control over their access to care.
So the insurance companies can live with screwing the American taxpayer a little less on this end (Medicare Advantage) while getting 47 million more of them as customers on the other end? Big of ya'. Really the way to be an American team player, eh? It makes me sick.
The deep concern of the AHIP folks will translate into some policy change, you can bet on that. But the deep concern of Medicare Advantage patients will not do much. They are not seen as stakeholders. Widgets. One and all. If adjustments are made it will be money-motivated not care-centered. Human rights be damned. We have friends to protect here.
My husband is but one of millions serving as sad examples of what the market wants to do with us all. He carries his Medicare coverage, pays that monthly premium out of his Social Security and also carries and pays for a Humana plan as well. Humana also gets to zap his Social Security directly for their premium. Like that market driven approach? He should have the "gold standard," eh? Not so much.
When we recently moved from Illinois to the DC area, we found that even his Medicare coverage is now not in effect and will not be honored by any provider here - unless and until the almighty Humana either allows his coverage to transfer or drops him from their roles. Really. That's the grim reality for people hog-tied to the for-profit insurance industry. Medicare-eligible folks become healthcare system refugees as the government continues to collect the monthly premium and Humana also pockets their share.
And what if my husband has a health problem tonight? Well, he'll just have to take his chances and either wait it out, hope not to die, and beg for care - or he'll die wondering how his own public plan was so subverted to the for-profit industry that he signed away his own right to treatment. A worker and taxpayer for more than 50 years - he is paying for two forms of coverage and yet has no coverage. He is denied. He is being bilked - and all with the blessings of both Republicans and Democrats.
My husband is not singled out by any means - he is one of millions from whom the insurance companies we're being asked to trust are taking money and providing no service and no coverage in return. It is racketeering in the classic sense. And our government is part of the racket stealing from us. They just don't care enough to fix it with any sense of urgency. Widgets.
The private, for-profit insurance companies want to do more of the same with the whole lot of us. They'll have to be cagier this time, but the insurance giants clearly know how to work the system to their benefit. And if folks like my husband die, well, it's just one of the costs of doing business.
So before we all jump too high in praise of anyone's new plan for us in terms of healthcare reform, let's have a look-see at what we - the patients and the peons who pay the bills - stand to gain from reform.
Right now, we've sold out our most vulnerable folks. We force people on Social Security to pay for insurance they cannot use. Do we care? And we want these companies that were willing to sell out our most vulnerable citizens to be charge of our entire healthcare system? Come on. Get real. Follow the money. Follow the widgets.
Will we really reform healthcare or just bail them all out - all the big money interests and industries - one by one by one until we truly have shifted all of our wealth to the top and left the rest of us groveling at the bottom? Or might we see it another way, as civilized people with a need to care for one another in a civilized way at a price this nation can afford? The single payer solution is not un-American, it is just the opposite. It is far more in line with American values of fairness and justice and fiscal responsibility than the convoluted, corrupt system that would funnel our hard-earned dollars straight to the top without regard for our national well-being.
Follow the money. And that cash does not presently lead to you and to me getting a fair shake. We'll have to fight for it. Or we'll die for it. When the next summit is convened, do you suppose it could start with the basic premise that healthcare is a basic human right and first design what we think we need to provide that right to our citizens - one and all? That would forever change the discussion and drive the agenda accordingly. We're not there yet. And it remains to be seen if this President can set that tone and that agenda.